Monday, June 25, 2007

Trees and Dead Trees

These days I spend lots of time walking between the dorm, Foster Hall (on the left) and my classrooms in the Hall of Science (on the right). I make at least three roundtrips a day and have begun to understand why Drew is nicknamed 'The Forest'. Most days I pass a (perhaps too) tame doe with her two tiny fawns, a baby racoon that seems fond of a particular tree, and a hawk that I watched teach her baby to fly this past Wednesday. The Forest is beautiful.

And yet as I walk I also spend a lot of time looking down, trying not to step on all the caterpillars that are all over. Like much of this part of New Jersey, the Forest is being infested with gypsy moths and Drew personnel are worried about whether or not the old oaks are going to survive through the summer.

This afternoon I'm off to a theological library orientation. It's supposed to show us the organization of the 'dead trees', which is what Drew's librarian calls books. The term startled me when he first used it. I never thought of books first and foremost in those terms and it seemed especially startling coming from a librarian. I guess, though, that the forest theme appears everywhere on this campus.

Monday, June 18, 2007

At Drew

I arrived at Drew yesterday afternoon since they said to arrive between 2 and 5 and so far things have been very tame. There was nothing to do yesterday other than check into the dorm. Because I'm one of two women in my program and the other woman chose to stay in a hotel I have the place to myself.

Today we began with breakfast at 8:30 and then an orientation morning, which was largely a repeat of information they'd already given us in writing and introductions. 31 of the 33 DMin students did introductions of the "I've one wife/husband and x kids" type. When the director of the program said that Drew prided itself on having attained balanced diversity in the DMin program in all ways I wanted to say "Really? Is anyone else gay? Or is there anyone who is single? Or divorced? Or..." The only other thing on the schedule for the day was to get ID cards and be back at the dorm to have our refrigerators delivered at 2. I used the afternoon to get some swimming in, but I hope that the "intense emersion experience" they keep saying this three weeks is gets more intense tomorrow when classes formally begin.

I'm heading off to dinner in a little while (both the cafeteria and the snack bar are closed during the summer so we have to eat off campus except for lunch time when there may be a place to get a sandwich) with the other six folks who are in my cohort for the rest of my DMin program. I hope it's a good chance to get to know them a little better.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Attending a Second Life Worship Service

Last night I attended a church service at a Second Life progressive church (as opposed to, the conservative church that opened on Easter and has spent tons of money creating a second life campus that can stream its regular service in world) called the United Church of Christ in SL. The building, built by a second year seminary student at Emory and her partner, was beautiful—individually designed cushions in the center of the floor to sit on, mats lining the walls for extra seating, large, clear glass windows making up the roof and other details made being in the space quite pleasing, although I could have lived without the large cross hanging suspended over the one entryway. (Crosses are, by their very nature, meant to be grounded in the earth, aren’t they, both because of their original use as instruments of torture and because without an earthy connection, what would Easter mean?)

Having said that, the service itself was very weak. It made me aware of the need to really think through worship from scratch if it’s going to work in world. I’m sure a little of the problem was that the service was designed and led by a seminarian without a lot of worship experience (though with a big heart and a worldview that seemed warm and hospitable). Aside from sitting on the cushion, much of the worship was structured in typical modern style, with the worship leader standing behind a pulpit talking at the congregation during the sermon or leading the congregation in prayer. While this style clearly has limitations in our ‘first’ life churches, it has even more problems in Second Life. The preacher stood behind the pulpit and typed the lines to the sermon one by one. We sat there and watched her type. There were none of the body signals or facial expressions or tones of voice that so often carry a first life sermon, just the hands moving and arms going up and down for the typing. The long pauses in between lines of text appearing made it very hard to follow, much less engage with. And the responsive prayer, which we were given ahead of time along with the lectionary passage, also didn’t work very well. Each time we were to do the ‘all’ part, we each typed in the response line, which showed up again and again on the screen. The only part of ‘traditional’ worship that seemed to work well was the sharing of joys and concerns, where individuals shared a hope or worry and then the worship leader responded to each concern with a brief prayer.

The service left me wondering about the best way to do worship in world. It’s clear that worship has to offer something other than the kinds of things that lifechurch or this UCC church have tried. Maybe there are other houses of worship in 2nd life offering more engaging worship. I’ll try to search around and check it out because if there aren’t, someone needs to puzzle through what kinds of worship would work in Second Life that would actively engage those participating in a congregation.

The Future of Democracy?

I just finished reading Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason. I found his critique of American policies and actions under the Bush administration strong and persuasive. His statements about having a contemporary American society where individuals pay little or no attention to their role as citizens also seems right on target. And I was impressed by his argument that what’s most crucial today is to have a well-connected citizenry rather than just focusing on education and a well-informed citizenry. His hopes for the internet as a way to “pursue truth” and build this connection through uses like blogging and wikis seem a little pie-in-the-sky but were also intriguing.

Having said all that, I was troubled by Gore’s underlying assumption in his argument that the power of reason was and remains the central premise of U.S. democracy and that we need to be able to return in our communications to is enlightenment sense of reason if democracy is to function successfully. Gore talks in his book about how the world changed when printing presses allowed more people access to information so he seems to understand the shift from premodern to modern culture. He doesn’t seem aware, however, of a similar shift from modernism to postmodernism, a shift that takes us away from the truth as some objective principle that everyone can sign on to toward the truth as relative, growing out of reason combined with experience. As the title of his book suggests, Gore is putting ultimate value on reason as the way into a deep life when postmodernism has begun to look at reason alone as a shallow approach, missing what’s gained from the use of the heart and experience as well as reason.

Because of Gore’s interweaving of reason and democracy, The Assault on Reason raises a whole series of unanswered questions. Is Gore correct that democracy and reason are so intertwined that they are inseparable? Is democracy only a form of government that can thrive in a modern world or can it survive in postmodern culture? Does democracy only function well when all the decisions are based on reason and a common understanding of truth (as Gore seems to imply) or can it truly adapt itself to a world where decisions are based on experience, emotions, and reason combined? None of these questions are ones that Gore sees, much less addresses, in his book and yet they seem to be at the very heart of our political culture these days.